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Why It's So Hard to Create a Life With Chronic Pain

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I recently was invited to an event that I would have loved to have attended.  Yet, due to what seems like a “never-ending” flare up from my arthritis, I had to decline the invitation. I knew where this place was and I knew the chairs. Oh, the chairs. Why must the chairs always be an issue?

Since I have a type of inflammatory arthritis that greatly affects my back, I live with chronic back pain. The past two years there has been an additional symptom of severe burning down my left leg when I am sitting for more than a few minutes. Chairs are extremely important to me and probably to the rest of the people with back pain out there. But when I say important, I mean it. The chair is a deal-breaker. After many painful experiences, if I know a place like a restaurant, an event, etc. has an uncomfortable chair I won’t even go. Unfortunately, not only will it cause me great distress while I’m there but it can trigger a flare-up that could last for weeks. To imagine that people who do not experience chronic back pain never even have to think about what kind of chairs will they be sitting on… I find it almost astounding that a chair could be so irrelevant for some and yet it has so much control in my life.

After really thinking about it, I decided I had to say no to this event. However, after saying no, I felt a number of emotions. My immediate thoughts were: Another thing this pain has taken from you, another disappointment, and another isolation. To make matters worse, I decided to look on Facebook to see who would be attending the event since it was local. As I scrolled through the list, I saw several girls that I had graduated high school with. These girls were all my age, married with children. They looked happy in their pictures. They looked like they created a life for themselves. They created their own families. They moved on and appeared settled. They had what I wanted so badly: a real life. Why did they get to have the freedom of creating a life without chronic pain? Why did I have to be limited and they didn’t?

And then it hit me. It was the freedom that they had that I desperately longed for. The freedom that was taken away when I was only 15, when this pain began. Freedom to do whatever you wanted to do without being a slave to the chains of chronic pain. I wasn’t able to live on my own, work, and have a social life due to the pain. It stole and robbed me of what I wanted in my life. To me, when you are young and you get hit with chronic pain, dreams and hopes get halted. Believe me, I have tried and continue to try to re-shape my dreams and hopes, but somehow the pain always seems to get in the way.

Further, I knew the chairs would bring me physical pain, and I knew seeing these people have the life I longed for would bring me emotional pain. I know I am strong and try to put on a brave face. But, I didn’t want to put myself on display at this event. I knew how it would go, they would ask: how are you, what do you do? Are you married? Where do you live? All the questions that I dreaded having to answer. As you read this, you may be thinking I am hiding from these people or for that matter, anyone from my past who may be curious about my present life. But, the funny thing about hiding is that you are really hiding from yourself.

So, perhaps I am hiding. Maybe it hurts too much to face and accept what chronic pain has done and taken away from me. Did I plan my life to go like this? No. I thought I would be so much more at this point in my early 30s; living on my own, a professional, a wife, maybe even a mother. But, I’m not any of those and I blame you, arthritis and chronic pain. You are at fault, not me and I can be angry at you and even hate you. Yet somehow I will have to find a way to grieve what you have taken from me and create a life for myself.

Who knows, maybe I will have a life one day like those other girls have. Except there will be a difference. I will know the pain, frustration and perseverance it took for me to get there and I will never take it for granted.

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Originally published: November 10, 2016
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